Rediscovering your love of veterinary medicine
During her keynote address at the Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference, Patricia White, DVM, MS, DACVD, CPC, helped attendees rediscover not only their passion for their profession, but how to regain their sense of purpose.
It seems all too common a situation lately, that veterinarians are feeling overworked, unappreciated, and consider leaving the profession. Patricia White, DVM, MS, DACVD, CPC, and certified professional coach, discussed what it means to be a heart-centered veterinarian, and how you can regain your sense of purpose and passion for your profession during her keynote address at the Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference (ACVC) in Atlantic City.
White started by explaining that being a heart-centered veterinarian is a state of mind in which what we do is aligned with who we are. It occurs when we take responsibility to create and live in alignment with our values, desires, purpose, and passion. She reminded us that this is not an easy task and does take work. The success of a practice, whether as an owner or associate, depends on relationships and communication. All people, whether those who run the business or are served by it, have a need to be valued, seen, heard, and cared for. A component of this need requires an accurate awareness and expression of oneself.
To better define who we are, what we want, why we want it, and why we chose a certain path, White talked about listening to our internal guidance system (IGS). Our IGS is much like a GPS that tells us if something we are doing or a decision, we are making is aligned with who we are or not. She also talked about how our feelings are not good or bad, but rather they are information to help guide us as to whether or not we are still moving towards fulfilling a need. We are meant to pay attention to this information and allow it to guide us.
It is also important to have clarity on what our core values are, as they have a strong influence on our behavior. Our core values represent who we are and form the basis of our personal code of conduct. They are evident in how we serve others and are a defining factor in our morale and motivation. White pointed out that if there is a mismatch between our core values and those of our employer, we will likely not be happy. If you are a practice owner, then your core values likely set the foundation for the culture of the practice and set the tone for what you expect from your employees. Honoring our core values leads to feelings of fulfillment. If we are feeling negatively about our work, we should consider whether or not our work environment (either as employers or employees) matches our core values, as sometimes this is not clear without closer thought.
“Values serve to set the tone and quality for what you expect from your boss and as a boss, from your employees,” White said. “[Your values] serve as a compass, a blueprint, that actually can attract people with similar values.”
White then went on to discuss the importance of identifying our passion and purpose and emphasized that these need not be veterinary-related. If you are unsure what this is for you, she suggested that you start by thinking about a topic or activity that you enjoy, comes naturally to you, energizes you, puts you in flow, and makes time go by quickly. These things are your passion.
“Your passions can change over time, but it’s important to know what they are,” she added, “Pay attention to these things that light you up, then make a movement toward [them].”
Your purpose is related to passion and your core values. White explained that your purpose is the “big why,” the blend of your passions and skills that align with your values and is the answer to the deeper meaning of why you do what you do, that moves you in the direction of living your passions, and that how you are getting to that direction is in alignment with your core values. When all of these things align, you feel happy and productive. This, White told us, is how we live with purpose.
Purpose is fundamental to the concept of ikigai, which embodies words like alive, life-purpose, worth, and relates to broader actions such as to serve, create, teach, delight, nourish, provide, heal, connect, and build. Overall, the concept of ikigai is to do those things which fulfill you, excite you, make you happy, and anticipate the next opportunity to do these things again.
When we are not aligned with our passion and purpose, our body sends signals of discomfort. Common mental and physical manifestations of this malalignment are low energy, fatigue, feeling trapped, digestive problems, forgetfulness and inability to concentrate, headaches, anxiety, depression, insomnia, and others. When following our purpose, we should feel lightness, freedom, and energy. We should feel less stress, sleep well, and overall feel healthier.
That is not to say that this is easy to attain. White reminded us that this takes work. There are hurdles that need to be overcome. In a survey she conducted, veterinarians stated that the 3 most common challenges that prevent them from living with purpose, included limited time and money. There are only so many hours in a day, and often we put others ahead of ourselves in that priority scale of taking care of others, family, and ourselves. We may feel we do not have the financial affluence or additional time to alter that order.
“Put what you love on your calendar…and set aside time that you honor like any appointment—don’t make excuses, don’t cross it off and put something else there…even [with] that small step you’ll see things will change,” White advised.
Another challenge was fear. In some cases, this was fear of success, failure, judgment, disappointment—we all have experienced that concept of not yet feeling ready to do something, and that it may be better if we have more time, or money, or experience, to ensure success. These reasons we use to determine readiness, White explained, are really a mask for our fear. This fear prevents us from achieving our goals. It is worth really examining these feelings and determining if we truly want to do something and are held back by fear, or if we perhaps do not have such a strong desire to do it (in which case perhaps it is not aligned with our passion and purpose). The third challenge highlighted in the survey was a lack of clarity about what one’s core values are, or how to incorporate these values into the practice.
Ultimately, when determining our work environment and life decisions, White’s advice is that we should focus mindfully on our core values, our passion, and our purpose. This is where the spirit of our work or business develops, and this may differ from the vision that others feel we should have for our work or business. Following these principles will provide the energy to venture out of our comfort zone and provide sustainability in our work.
White concluded by quoting Joseph Campbell: “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
Dr Rebecca Packer is board certified in neurology by the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and is an associate veterinarian at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Lafayette, Colorado. She is also the founder and owner of the Pre-Veterinary Mentoring Group, LLC, through which she provides mentorship for pre-veterinary students during their path to veterinary school, and is the founder and owner of The Pocket Neurologist, LLC, a vet-to-vet teleconsulting service.